A movie about counterfeit penicillin

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Intellectual property is all around us, in so many ways.  One of my favorite films, made in 1949, has counterfeit penicillin as its MacGuffin.  Who will be the first reader to name the film and, perhaps, to post a comment about it? 

The long runway for this story is that when I was in high school and college, I had studied some German, but as so often happens to people who studied a language in their youth, after that I had forgotten a lot of it through disuse.  Recently when I was trying to learn a bit of Mandarin Chinese, the German nearly all flooded back into clear memory along with the little bit of French that I had studied in junior high school.  Still in clear memory even now.  Odd how the brain does stuff.  But I digress.

Anyway, at one point during the many decades when my knowledge of the German tongue lay dormant in some remote corner of my brain, I happened to arrive at the entrance of the big cemetery in Vienna that is the location for the closing scene of that film.  I have to imagine that for many who have watched that film many times, as I have, it is a goal when you visit that cemetery to stand at that spot and try to feel that scene.  A pilgrimage for a film buff.  So there I was at the entrance to the cemetery.  There is a gate house and several people were working there.  I imagine their main job is looking up names in books to help people figure out where to go to find the grave of their ancestor.  Anyway I was trying some word salad in the German tongue that I hoped added up to “Where do I go to see the location for the closing scene of the film <name of film>?”  Between the wrong choices of words, bad syntax, poor German pronunciation generally, and the differences between High German and Austrian German, this was a failed communication on my part.  I am pretty sure that the only things that worked were the word for “Where” and the rising inflection at the end that signaled that what I was doing was not declaring something but asking something.  The very nice woman at the gate house who was trying to help me tried her best to work out what my question was, but it was no use.  Probably every person standing before her started with “Wohin” and ended with a rising inflection.

So then I hummed, or really sort of scat-sang, the first couple of musical lines of the the very famous theme song from that movie.  The guide people in the gate house all immediately smiled at each other and exclaimed the name of the film to each other almost in unison.  It must be that many people before me had arrived at this gate house and asked about the closing scene of that movie!  The guide person who was trying to help me pointed to a big map, and she spoke very slowly in very simple German to go straight a long way, and then turn this way and then turn that way.  And indeed I was able to get to the right place in the cemetery, and there were the big and distinctive crypts and grave markers that any lover of that film would recognize right away.

There I was, and I was able to pause, and absorb the scene around me for a while, and recall the last moments of this film.

And there stretching off into the distance was the long avenue where the closing character turned and walked slowly away, and the screen faded.

5 Replies to “A movie about counterfeit penicillin”

  1. THE THIRD MAN, directed by Carol Reed, b/o novel by Graham Green, starring Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, and Alida Valli. Great movie about love, friendship, betrayal and black market penicillin, which doesn’t just infringe pharma patents but kills children. This powerful, uncompromising film gives its protagonist a lot of tough choices. He does the right thing — and, of course, pays for it. Also has one of the most infectious soundtrack scores in movie history.

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